Ajanta and Ellora Caves — Ancient Monolith Rock-cut Marvels!

Aurangabad is steeped in history, and home to the first UNESCO world heritage site in India — Ajanta and Ellora caves. This quiet town rose to prominence when Emperor Aurangzeb made it his capital. The city has an architectural heritage that has lasted centuries, making Aurangabad a wonder to explore. Hewn by hand from solid rock, Ajanta and Ellora Caves represent the rich historical culture of India and symbolize the art and skill of Indian craftsmen prevalent in the bygone era. The caves are considered a gem of Indian archaeological history that date back from the 2nd century BC to 10th century AD. These 64 rock-cut monolithic caves were carved over a period of 1200 years, and known for their architecture, sculpture and paintings. Each cave stands out with its uniqueness and bold structure that defines the craftsmanship of the ancient age.

“There are some parts of the world that, once visited, get into your heart and won’t go. For me, India is such a place. When I first visited, I was stunned by the richness of the land, by its lush beauty and exotic architecture, by its ability to overload the senses with the pure, concentrated intensity of its colors, smells, tastes, and sounds. It was as if all my life I had been seeing the world in black and white and, when brought face-to-face with India, experienced everything re-rendered in brilliant technicolor.” — Keith Bellows

What to see in Aurangabad?

  • Kailasa Temple at Ellora Caves One of India’s greatest monuments, is the Kailasa temple that is part of the Ellora caves. This temple was built by kings of Rashtrakuta dynasty between the 8th and 10th century to represent Mt Kailasa, Lord Shiva’s Himalayan abode. The temple was built top-down with hammers and chisels, a process that entailed removing 200,000 tonnes of rock, before the temple could begin to take shape. The artisans then carved the main temple, pillars, statues, and individual shrines that took about 200 years. This temple covers twice the area of the Parthenon in Athens and being half as high. Kailasa temple is an engineering marvel that was executed with zero margin for error. The temple houses several intricately carved panels, depicting scenes from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the adventures of Krishna. The massive monolithic pillars that stand in the courtyard, flanking the entrance on both sides, and the southeastern gallery that has 10 giant and fabulous panels depicting the different avatars (incarnations of a deity) of Lord Vishnu.

  • Ellora Caves Ellora caves are located in the Sahyadri hills of Maharashtra. These monolithic caves are among the largest rock-hewn monastic-temple complexes in the entire world. Ellora caves represent the key essence of Indian rock-cut architecture.
    These caves date back to 5th thru 10th century AD. There are 34 rock-cut temples or caves, each of which has its own significance. Ellora Caves have Buddhist, Jain and Hindu rock-cut temples. It is apparent that back in the past, there was harmony between Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains, considering the close proximity of their religious buildings. These temples have been carved with enormous pillars, statues, gateways, corridors and walls depicting scenes from Hindu Mythology. Historians have called it “the most stupendous single work of art executed in India”. It was truly impressive to see how these large monolithic temples were architected and carved almost 1500 years ago.

  • Ajanta Caves Ajanta caves is a Buddhist cave complex near Aurangabad, Maharashtra. These caves are a sequence of 30 caves dating back to 2nd century BC till 650 AD. Built with only hammer and chisel, the Ajanta caves are known for the stunning murals, paintings and sculptures, most of them depicting the day to day life of Buddha. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, Ajanta caves are carved into a horseshoe-shaped hill in the Indhyadri range of Western Ghats around the Waghur river. Out of 30 Buddhist caves, 5 are unfinished. There are 5 chaityagrihas or temples and the rest are viharas or monasteries. The temples have beautiful vaulted ceilings, whereas the monasteries have flat ceilings with rooms for the monks to live. Ajanta Caves were built in two phases (Satavahana Period and Vakataka Period). After the decline of Buddhism in India, the caves were abandoned, but they were accidentally discovered in 1819 by a British officer, John Smith during a hunting expedition in the valley of the Sahyadari hills. He first sighted the upper part of cave 10, and reported  to the Nizam of Hyderabad about his discovery.
Ajanta caves provided a calm and composed environment for the Buddhist monks to meditate. Murals sketched in the walls of the caves depict various Jataka Tales, the story of the early life of Gautama Buddha. Buddhism is divided into three schools: Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana Buddhism. As you visit the Ajanta caves and learn about Buddhism, you’ll notice that the Hinayana cult (caves built from 200 BC to 200 AD) didn’t have images of Buddha. There’s just the stupa in the caves. However, the Mahayana cult (caves built from 400 AD to 700 AD) worshipped Lord Buddha images directly, and you’ll see statues of Buddha in the caves. The Vajrayana cult of Buddhism isn’t represented in the Ajanta Caves, but this cult is where both Lord Buddha and some female deities (such as Vajrayogini) are worshipped. Ajanta Caves are perceived as the pearls that speak to Indian history and the imaginativeness that existed in the predestined time.

Where to stay?

Taj Vivanta is a 5 star hotel located in Aurangabad. This palace style hotel is a fusion of old world architecture and modern comforts. The hotel is located about 15 minutes from the Aurangabad airport. This is wonderful hotel to stay at to explore the caves, and also other attractions in Aurangabad. Latitude or Indulge are restaurants that are located within the hotel, and it was convenient to have a nice dinner after a long day of sightseeing.

“To other countries, I may go as a tourist, but to India, I come as a pilgrim.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

May we recommend?

  • Best time to visit Ajanta and Ellora caves is between November and March, because of the pleasant and cool weather. This region is blessed with average to heavy rainfall between June and September, making the experience delightful. However, those are the busiest months. We visited the caves in June during very hot conditions, but the crowds were minimal.
  • Ajanta and Ellora Caves are perhaps the most visited caves in India. You’ll need 2 days to explore the caves as they are about 100 km apart. You’ll need about 4-5 hours to explore the caves in full detail. Our recommendation is to start very early in morning to beat the crowds and tour buses as much as possible.
  • We highly recommend hiring a government guide for both Ajanta and Ellora Caves. It is a must to hire a guide to understand the true meaning of the caves. We hired a company called Magic Tours Aurangabad that took care of the transportation and guide. We highly recommend this company and our tour guide Vivek Pathak.
  • Use Aurangabad as your base, as it’s convenient to hire a taxi and drive between the two cave sites. Ellora caves are located about 30 minutes from Audrangabad. It takes about three hours to get to Ajanta caves.
  • If you have additional time, Bibi Ka Maqbara (Mini Taj Mahal) and Daulatbad Fort are other attractions in Aurangabad that are worth checking out.

Ajanta and Ellora Caves have been perceived as the pearls that speak to Indian history and the noteworthy imaginativeness that existed in the predestined time. The astonishing and awe-inspiring carvings of Ajanta and Ellora will have a spellbinding effect on the eyes of a beholder. This is one destination that you should not miss if your travels bring you to India!

And remember… Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer!